LITA Members Talk Tech Trends | ALA Midwinter 2015

Five experts discussed the latest in library tech during the Library Information Technology Association (LITA) Top Technology Trends panel at the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter 2015 conference in Chicago. In front of a full house despite the snowstorm outside, the lively discussion of trends ranged from coding classes for girls to the growing infrastructure demands of open access publishing.
LITA logoTechnology continues to revolutionize how people access information, but there is a growing gulf between the haves and the have-nots in the library world, Marshall Breeding, consultant, author, and editor of Library Technology Guides said during the Library Information Technology Association (LITA) Top Technology Trends panel at the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter 2015 conference in Chicago. In front of a full house despite the snowstorm outside, the lively discussion of trends—ranging from coding classes for girls to the growing infrastructure demands of open access publishing—began on a sobering note, with Breeding pointing out that many current tools are out of reach for underfunded libraries. “My observation is that technology is very unequally distributed in libraries,” Breeding said. “I see libraries with the latest and the greatest, and money is no object. Those are the ones that we end up talking about. My other observation is that there are many libraries that don’t have websites, that have an automation system that maybe has been in the library for 15 to 20 years running on a PC that’s past its last legs. It’s amazing how many of those [libraries] there are.” However, “I think the trend is that it’s getting better,” he added, thanks to projects involving “broad cooperation” at the statewide, regional, and national level to enhance infrastructure and improve public access to technology via libraries and other institutions. Breeding was joined by Todd Carpenter, executive director of the National Information Standards Organization (NISO); Casey McCoy, program coordinator at the Lincolnwood (IL) Public Library District; Willie Miller, informatics and journalism librarian at Indiana University Library; and Carli Spina, emerging technologies and research librarian at Harvard Law School Library. The panel was moderated by Karen Schneider, dean of Sonoma State University Library.

Inclusive design

Architects came up with the concept now called “Universal Design” while working to develop buildings and environments with built-in accessibility features. For example, where older buildings might have stairs leading to a main entrance and a side or back entrance retrofitted with an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)–compliant ramp, many newer buildings are designed from the outset with a sloping entrance in lieu of stairs, enabling everyone to enter from the front, Spina explained. These design principles have since expanded to tech, software, and other fields, she added. “whether it’s buildings, physical items, software, or really any type of product, it’s the idea that they should be designed to be as usable…as possible for the widest possible audience involving as many people and types of people and types of users as possible.” In software applications, universal design translates into features such as providing both visual and auditory cues, both text and icons that are recognizable at a glance, and multiple ways to input information, such as recording a voice or drawing a picture, in addition to typing, Spina said. “This allows the [largest] number of people to feel not only that they can use your product but also that their preferred type of input is available,” she said. Universal Design is an important trend for libraries to watch, Spina said, because “it’s an important idea to keep in mind when we’re evaluating products that we [may be] purchasing…I think it’s also important for libraries when they are undertaking their own design process to consider these ideas, because it will help them be more inclusive to the widest number of people in their communities.”

Gaming the system

Gamification, or “using game design or thinking in non-game contexts,” was the top trend selected by Miller. “For libraries, [gamification] means using game design elements to help users solve problems in a library context in a fun and engaging way.” Rewards-based gamification, for example, typically breaks up a larger task into manageable stages and levels and uses prizes, badges, or recognition via leaderboards to incentivize participants to forge ahead. Miller cited the summer reading program at the Ann Arbor District Library (AADL) in Michigan as an example of gamification in action. “They use [digital] badges, social networking, leaderboards, and they have a system where about 5,000 people play,” Miller said. “They read books to get points, they also tag books in the catalog, they write reviews of books—all of these things add up to points that they can then exchange for prizes.” Another popular type of gamification mimics scavenger hunts, with location-based games rewarding patrons for completing different tasks in different parts of a library, or even at partner institutions. In addition to rewards-based gamification, “Meaningful Gamification,” is an emerging offshoot of the trend developed by Scott Nicholson at the Syracuse University School of Information Studies. Nicholson’s research has indicated that rewards-based systems may generate diminishing returns, and that leaderboards can turn into a disincentive for low-ranked players as a game progresses, so Meaningful Gamification eschews rewards, and instead uses game elements in an effort to help participants engage more deeply with material in non-game settings. “The playing of the game is the reward,” Miller said, citing a 2011 partnership between the New York Public Library and game designer Jane McGonigal to host “Finding the Future,” an overnight, smartphone-assisted scavenger hunt that encouraged players to submit their thoughts on items throughout the library’s historic 42nd Street location. Although an audience member questioned whether there might be concerns about gender neutrality in gamified programs, Spina joined the conversation to point out that when all types of games are weighted equally, current statistics tend to indicate that males and females of all ages play games and videogames in equal numbers.

OA growing pains

Carpenter began his trend discussion by outlining the “tremendous amount” of technology used to support subscription-based assets and content, including subscription agents, electronic data interchange (EDI) to communicate and process orders, International Standard Serial Number (ISSN) assignments, and metadata management. “My trend is, essentially, how are those systems going to have to change, as open access really transforms how scholarly communication takes place?” Carpenter said. Estimating that paid academic subscriptions were a $12 billion business in 2014, Carpenter added that “we don’t have a model for how that system would work, and I guarantee you that the publishing community…the patron community, and institutions…do not want to process anything like $12 billion on departmental credit cards.” Open access already accounts for between 10 percent and 20 percent of scholarly articles published each year, and it is currently growing 18 percent per year, Carpenter said. “At what point does this trend significantly impact the library systems that need to manage that information?” These concerns would apply not only to the systems used to process open access articles, but to discovery systems that may need to surface open access content in hybrid journals containing both paid subscription and open access content. “You’re talking about managing metadata on an article level, not a journal level, which is a significant difference,” he said.

Girls' club

Squeak Etoys is a free authoring environment that helps introduce kids to the principles of computer programming

Squeak Etoys is a free authoring environment that helps introduce kids to the principles of computer programming

With a nod toward Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education initiatives, many libraries have expanded their digital literacy efforts to include coding classes and workshops for young people. However, these efforts should include more active outreach to girls, McCoy said. “We’re still seeing a discrepancy in gender in computer science,” McCoy said. Citing statistics reported by the National Center for Women and Information Technology, McCoy noted that in 2013, only 19 percent of AP computer science test takers were girls. In 2012, only 12 percent of computer science undergraduate degrees were earned by women. Lack of representation in high school and college has led to low representation in the growing field, with women holding only 26 percent of jobs requiring a computer science degree. Of those women, only three percent are African American, five percent are Asian, and two percent are Hispanic, McCoy said. McCoy discussed her recent work at an elementary school that had set up a coding course using Squeak Etoys, a free, interactive programming platform for kids. Exploration was encouraged, and many of the boys in the course would go off script with assignments and begin making their own creations. Meanwhile, many of the girls would become frustrated if they weren’t able to complete an assignment as specified by the teacher. The school library ultimately started a coding group for girls, which enabled members to plan their own projects and to feel more free to explore the program on their own. McCoy concluded her discussion by noting that several new organizations, such as Black Girls Code, are similarly working to introduce young women and minorities to the field of computer science at a young age.

Five seconds

During a separate round of discussion, each panelist had a few minutes to describe a second tech trend that is beginning to make its mark on libraries. Spina began with a brief talk about beacons, small, battery-powered transmitters that enable retailers, museums, libraries, or other businesses and institutions to send highly targeted, location-relevant messages to Bluetooth-enabled Smartphones. Two app makers—BluuBeam and Capira Technologies—have developed beacons for libraries, she said. Breeding followed with a discussion about the changing “ecology of search and discovery.” Regardless of whether a library invests in a modern discovery solution to facilitate the search and retrieval of library resources, the field should embrace linked data solutions as well, to enhance discovery of library resources via Google and other places where searches originate, he said. The involvement of academic libraries in the creation, maintenance, and copyright clearance for digital course packs was Miller’s second trend. For example, as part of its e-text initiative, the IT department at Indiana University has agreements in place with 17 different publishers to license course pack content for several high-enrollment courses. The University of Minnesota’s library has incorporated a digital course pack program into its existing course reserve system. A couple of weeks prior to the start of each semester, professors can submit a list of content that they wish to have included in a course pack. The library figures out which articles the library has access to, and which articles will require the submission of a copyright clearance form to the publisher for access. Carpenter opened the discussion of his second trend by noting that several news organizations had been describing 2014 as “the year of the hack” following major customer data breaches at JP Morgan Chase, Fidelity Investments, Home Depot, Staples, and (at the end of 2013) Target. While libraries would seem to be a less likely target for hackers than businesses that store consumer financial information, libraries do have access to data that patrons expect to be private. Also, libraries are now partnering with many third-party vendors that may or may not share the library’s concerns about privacy. In a separate wrinkle, there is a growing tension between the library community’s “long, active, supportive history of privacy” and the demand for enhanced, personalized digital services, which are facilitated by the tracking and storage of personal data. McCoy concluded the second portion of the panel with a discussion of app-based home technology. New devices such as Nest thermostats can be remotely controlled via smartphone apps, enabling consumers to conserve energy and save money. As these types of devices become more pervasive, libraries might consider including them as components of broader consumer-tech loan programs, perhaps linking these loans to library courses on energy conservation, green technology, or sustainability.
Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.


Awesome post.

Posted : May 05, 2015 10:58

Casey McCoy

Great article, thank you for the write up! Just wanted to mention the school I worked with was not using Scratch, but a program similar to scratch called Etoys. Here is the website for more information:

Posted : Feb 08, 2015 12:32

Matt Enis

Hi Casey. I enjoyed the panel! Sorry about the error. I've changed the text, swapped the screenshot, and placed a correction at the end. Thanks so much for pointing that out.

Posted : Feb 08, 2015 12:32

Casey McCoy

Glad you enjoyed the panel, it was an amazing experience. Thanks for the quick correction!

Posted : Feb 08, 2015 12:32




Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones


Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones


Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones

Get connected. Join our global community of more than 200,000 librarians and educators.